Galway senior ladies’ footballer Lisa Gannon is undoubtedly a role model for women in sport.
She was not a promising underage star growing up and yet, through sheer hard-work and determination, she has firmly established herself as a first-choice player on the Tribeswomen’s flagship team.
Having played an integral role in Galway’s impressive 3-12 to 1-8 victory over Mayo in the Connacht final at McHale Park, Castlebar in early July, vice-captain Lisa and her team-mates are now looking forward to an All-Ireland quarter-final showdown against reigning All-Ireland champions Cork or Ulster finalists Monaghan on August 19.
However, it is her progress that captures the imagination, particularly given the Kilkerrin/Clonberne native’s relationship with the maroon and white could only be described, at best, as a flirtation during her teenage years.
“I went to a few trials at underage but it wasn’t until after minor really that I got into it,” says the 25-year-old midfielder. “That was because of our club set-up. We were an All-Ireland winning team 10 or 12 years ago but the club went downhill for a time after that."
“However, we just got a rise back into the club again – new management took over – and there was a burst of energy after that. That is what got me going again but it definitely wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 before I really broke into the county scene.”
While she did not make her county debut until 2014 – against Monaghan – from there on in she toiled tirelessly to build her game and earn her time on the field of play. And the closer she has got to nailing down a starting berth, the harder she has fought to wear the jersey.
“Sure, look, the work-rate has to be there but it is the support as well. The support you get from management in both club and county is massive. I am very lucky to be part of a very successful club set-up,” says Lisa, who has four county senior club football championship medals to her name to date.
No doubt, as a role model for young women in sport, she boasts of all the attributes but, she notes, there are others there in Galway’s senior squad who equally deserve the recognition.
“To look in-house, there are plenty. Emer Flaherty and Sinead Burke are unbelievable rolemodels. They have such pace and such strength and dedication and professionalism and the way they go about things.
You have a lot of players outside our set-up, in Dublin and Donegal and Cork as well, but we have plenty of role models in Galway.”
On the international scene, she says the Williams’ sisters are among those she admires. While Serena may be the more successful of the pair with 23 grand slam titles, she pays homage to 37-year-old Venus, a seven-time grand slam winner, who recently contested the Wimbledon singles final.
“The Williams sisters are serious role models – players who are ambassadors for their sport. They drive for respect for women in sport and that is the sort of role model I look up to,” she says.
This “drive for respect” is what most women in sport can relate to, as underlined by the stance taken by the Republic of Ireland women’s soccer team earlier this year. However, Gannon maintains advances are being made.
“Definitely, yeah, especially when you look at the set-up now (in ladies’ football). It has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years. It has gone so professional in the background. From your gym strength and conditioning to your fitness testing to nutrition to training on the pitch. It is unbelievable.
I think though, to be successful, you can’t have one of those without the other. If you are working on your strength and conditioning but your nutrition isn’t right, it is not going to balance out for you. Nutrition, for example, is as important to your recovery as it is for fuelling. So, this goes hand in hand with your other work and if you don’t do one of those you are never going to reach 100%.”
Given the level of commitment and dedication required at inter-county level, and the countless hours it commands, Lisa is relieved to have chosen the career of a secondary school teacher. “Yeah, to be honest, being a teacher, I do have it ideal. I don’t know how other players do it,” she smiles.
“We have nurses on the team, along with doctors, physiotherapists and so on, and I don’t know how they do it. Because there are a lot of hours involved. I suppose, the passion is there and if you want to do it, you will turn up at training. I definitely find with the teaching it does help to have the hours off when you are in peak season over the Summer.”
That said, one suspects she wouldn’t have it any other way. She has toiled, laboured and fought for the privilege of donning the maroon and white of Galway. Has it been worth it?
You bet it has and she hopes she can now be a role model for others with similar ambitions.
“Hopefully they (young girls) see you as someone who is hard-working, someone who is training, and someone who is dedicated to something and putting 100% into it. Being an athlete is a great role model for young girls.
I think though, when you look at the club set-up in Galway as well, even in my own club Kilkerrin/Clonberne and other clubs like Claregalway, they deserve a lot of praise because the underage set-ups there are unbelievable. You can see it in our (county) minors, U-16s and U-14s this year. They are so successful,” she concludes.
No doubt when the analysts talk about Galway ladies football in 2017 that word 'successful' will be closely aligned with Lisa Gannon!
Galway play Cork or Monaghan in the LGFA All-Ireland senior quarter-final on the weekend of August 19.
The Galway U-16s and minors contest All-Ireland deciders on Wednesday, July 26 and Bank Holiday Monday, August 7. Already in 2017, the Galway U-14 girls claimed All-Ireland glory with victory over Kerry.